Summer 2008

In Vivo

Dean Molly Jahn

Few decisions are more important to the long-term vitality of our college than the decision to hire a new professor. Faculty and staff are on the front lines of every aspect of our mission. They do far more than teach or work in labs—they define our capacity to respond to opportunities and make a difference in our community. This is why it’s so important to get these hiring decisions right.

We’ve been making a lot of these decisions lately. By the time we finish this year’s recruitment, we will have hired 122 new professors since 2000—an amazing 42 percent of our entire faculty. To some extent, this remarkable turnover reflects a natural, healthy cycle in higher education. Research universities enjoyed a tremendous boom in the 1960s and ’70s, and many of the faculty hired then are retiring. Another factor is our ability to marshal resources to support faculty in new areas. Despite budgets that resulted in the loss of 90 faculty positions from 1980 to 2005, we’ve been able to find other means to begin to grow our faculty base back toward where it once was.

One result of this hiring is that CALS is now a relatively young place.

The average age of these 122 professors is 43, which in today’s research environment is barely out of the gates. According to data from the National Institutes of Health, professors now don’t earn their first NIH grant until 42 years of age, a reflection of how competitive these awards have become. Because of our history of excellence and commitment to our land-grant missions, we’ve been able to recruit the best and brightest young talent in the world, who can excel even in this rigorous environment.

Now the hard work begins. The key to upholding and enhancing our college’s ability to serve our missions will lie in nurturing this generation of leaders. Just as our college provided for those luminaries on whose foundations we build, our job now is to challenge, to support and to inspire this generation as they look toward the horizon.

It has been said that where there is no vision, the people wither. Our college was invented to provide both vision, and, on a very practical level, the means to improve the lives of our citizens. This wave of hiring offers us an opportunity to reload our intellectual cannons—and to aim them at new targets. We are indeed a young and clever college these days. And we are a college that aspires to turn all this knowledge and potential toward something, that, in the fullness of time, may be called wisdom.

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